1. It will likely (not) happen
The first surprise is the most disappointing: your dream of becoming a cycling professional is probably not about to happen. The way of becoming a pro cyclist is not a result of an internal decision but rather a part of managed coincidences. Your desire and will would initiate the process in the beginning, yet soon you’d be astounded how demanding the whole task evolve to be. You can be incredibly good winning local races but to move up to the real professional level is such a strenuous step that only the professionals know. It’s quite similar to the world of professional music. You might have a great band performing successfully, seeing yourself as a real pro, but there still will be a hopeless gap between you and Metallica.
2. Desperately short-lived
Once you join the professional team, you will be surprised how quickly will your career fade out. On average, cyclists take part in the big races at around the age of 25 but there are only a few that keep on racing over thirty. This is not fair if compared with other professions indeed. For example, the Rolling Stones may not play so often at the age of sixty, but they still do tour the world. Cyclists like Erik Zabel, who was winning stages in his forties, are a rare exception. Cyclist’s career, based on its duration, might be compared to one of the ballet dancers. It’s lovely, it’s great but as soon as the curtain hits the ground, you are done.
3. The victories are rare
While the amateurs look at sport in terms of results, some of the real professionals are paid for other values. Some of them are praised, sought after, and paid well without even winning a single major race in their entire career. They’re assigned to specific tasks within the team hierarchy such as supporting other team members in their attempts to gain the title. Not everyone can deal with it, naturally, but in the world of professional cycling, this behaviour is considered normal. Professionals are frequently asked if they mind that the title had been taken by the other guy from the team but in reality, this is a part of the job like anywhere else, including the charitable corporation you work for.
4. The training is over
The professional cycling is everything but racing. There simply is no more time for more training. While the athletes of the modern pentathlon normally take part in about five major events per year, cyclists might have up to 100 starts in a single season. Tennis players are a bit closer to this kind of employment, however, once they fail to move up in the French Open, they just pack their backs and leave for home. Cyclists, on the other hand, have to battle through each stage from the start to the finish, which might even take several weeks.
5. You are lonely
You don’t feel literally lonely as there are many people around you any hour of a day but, at the same time, you might feel devastated when not seeing your family in ages. Cyclists don’t have time to meet their spouses during the events and so it’s a habit that their partners stay at home. While football players might also travel across half the planet to play the match in Brazil, apart from World Championships held once in two years, they’re likely to come back to hug their loved ones just in a couple of days. On the contrary, big cycling events might take up to 21 days which is quite a long time to consider divorce.
6. You don’t make money adequate to given efforts
Even though professional cycling is a wonderful experience, just a few in a decade are born to win events like the Tour de France. The chances are so low as if you made up your mind to be the second Michael Jackson or Madonna. Even if you’re doing well and reach for the fame of the cycling star, your salary is comparable to what professional tennis players will get when they get eliminated in the middle of a provincial tournament. Professional cyclists can be gifted and outstanding like Madonna, but they still would get paid as opera singers. (We’re talking neither Bocelli nor Pavarotti.)
7. You have to take care of yourself
When you are a professional footballer, you’re cherished from all sides even when you become useless as your manager still needs to get rid of you for an incredible amount of money. Cycling is not the case. Normally, you get a contract for two years and if you do not meet the expectations, you are fired without compensation.
8. You don’t make the decisions
While tennis players can decide which tournament to take or whether they will make the deal with Nike or Adidas, the sporting director of the cycling team makes the decisions and you’re just the soldier to obey his orders.
9. Emptiness once the career’s over
When you’re done, you’re dead, even if you belonged among the best ones. In other sports, you might get the job of a youth coach or a chair in the sport’s committee but that’s not the case with cycling. On the other hand, it is common that cyclists successfully make it in their other careers in completely different kinds of business.
10. Just a few would regret
After all that’s been said, there are only a few regrets. Most former cyclists would have never changed a thing. Being in professional cycling is a great challenge. For those who took it, it has been a wonderful part of life. One old Italian told me at the race, where the fans slept at the tents by the road: “Fans don’t cheer on cyclists, they give them a tribute. And this is the difference between cycling and other sports. While after the football match, there’s always half of the people leaving the stadium with anger and tears, there is only joy in cycling. No matter the nationality or where the team belongs, people are applauding to everyone. You will not see this in any other sport.”